If you are a farmer or gardener in the Capital Region, the latest outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology makes grim reading, with spring expected to be warmer and drier than average, but those frosty mornings to persist.
Climate modelling also suggests a higher than normal chance of an El Niño forming in the spring.
Bureau climatologist and Manager of Long Range Forecasting Dr Andrew Watkins said the ACT had about half its normal winter rainfall, and daytime temperatures, despite what people might think, had been about 1.3 degrees warmer than average, consistent with tempatures across New South Wales.
This was consistent with the warming trend of recent decades in Australia and globally as well.
Weekly NewsletterEvery Thursday afternoon, we package up the most-read and trending RiotACT stories of the past seven days and deliver straight to your inbox..
But the dry weather has meant slightly cooler than average nights, resulting in the run of heavy frosts that Canberrans have woken up to this winter.
They may well welcome news of a warmer spring but the Bureau’s Spring Outlook says that with clear skies likely, the risk of frost and cold nights will continue in the south, although over the course of the season night-time temperatures look like being slightly above average.
And drought areas, including the ACT region, are less likely to see significant respite in the coming three months.
Dr Watkins said that recent rain across New South Wales had not had much impact, particularly in the south-east, and the state was on track to have one of the driest winters on record.
It was also set to be in the top five warmest winters on record, and the combination of low rainfall and high evaporation rates meant a lot drier soils over much of NSW, particularly in the south-east.
The outlook will also have fire authorities on edge, with many areas including the ACT bringing forward their bushfire periods and preparing for a long, dangerous campaign ahead.
Dr Andrew Watkins said much of the eastern mainland had experienced an exceptionally dry 2018 and the outlook was not great news for farmers in drought-impacted parts of the country.
“These regions need a lot of rain to break the current drought,” Dr Watkins said.
“Like all Australians, all of us at the Bureau of Meteorology are hoping those affected by the drought will get the rain they need soon.
“Unfortunately, our outlooks show odds favouring a drier and warmer-than-average spring for many areas.”
The outlook suggests spring rainfall is likely to be below-average for much of mainland Australia, with strongest chances (above 80 per cent) of a drier-than-average season in southern NSW, Victoria and south-west Western Australia.
The best hope for any significant rain is later in the season.
The Bureau says one of Australia’s main climate drivers, the El-Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently in a neutral phase, however the Bureau’s ENSO Outlook is at El Niño Watch, meaning the chances of an El Niño forming in the coming spring are 50 per cent, roughly double the normal chances.
“Traditionally El Niño events result in warmer and drier-than-average conditions across eastern Australia,” Dr Watkins said.
“However, it is important to remember that the strength of an El Niño event doesn’t always translate into the conditions we see. For example, in the past we’ve had strong El Niño events accompanied by mild conditions and weaker El Niño events accompanied by severe conditions.”
Climatologist Felicity Gamble said this was unusual because an El Niño event would typically develop in late autumn or winter, “so this is quite a late development if we do cross those thresholds”.
The saving grace may be that the event may weaken as we head into summer.
But Dr Watkins said that a number of international models were also predicting a positive Indian Ocean Dipole event could potentially develop during spring which would exacerbate the drying trend.